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'Tis the Season: Going Shopping for Retail APIs

By Ashley Waxman on .

Today’s retail scene is a shopper’s paradise—from one-click purchases to customized web experiences to personalized in-store experiences, it’s become easier than ever to spend money on yourself and loved ones. As consumers buy more via mobile and other devices, and IoT becomes more than just a buzzword, retailers rely on robust sets of APIs to bring consumer data in and make these in- and out-of-store experiences unique and consistent.

A report from RetailMeNot and Forrester says that sales via mobile moments will reach $689 billion in 2017. The study explains that receiving the right data from customers and being able to share that data with the right partners and services is a key factor for retailers to be successful in mobile. A major way of facilitating those exchanges is with APIs.

Many retailers across the globe have already made the transition to technology-focused business strategies with APIs as the connective tissue between their infrastructure and their consumers. Additionally, several new platforms in the ecommerce space have cropped up to connect retailers and consumers.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways that retailers are leveraging APIs to improve infrastructure efficiency and extend their reach.

Transforming Retail from the Inside Out

High end brands with customers all over the country and the world are investing massive resources in their digital strategies, starting with their internal infrastructure. Iconic British brand Burberry began an internal technology revolution a few years ago beginning with supply-chain logistics and in-store analytics. The company has evolved to a microservices architecture powered by APIs that allow the company to make profitable integrations with platforms like Instagram.

Nordstrom has made significant investments in infrastructure that have allowed the company to grow by more than 50% in five years. A consistent multichannel experience that gives flexibility to customers keeps them coming back and making purchases.  

DevOps and APIs have been huge enterprise-wide initiatives at Target, providing the company with new revenue streams and ecosystems beyond its brick-and-mortar walls. Target’s API team has evolved the company’s infrastructure to more than 80 APIs that are essential in its continuous integration (CI) and continuous deployment (CD) processes.

One of the biggest retailers in the UK, Tesco, has a Tesco Labs division that launched the company’s Grocery API and app in 2014. The group is now focusing on hackathons and frictionless payments, among other things, to make shopping for groceries a more efficient and personalized process.

Engaging the Developer Customer

Some companies are harnessing the power of developers by making their APIs publicly available. Macy’s has a long-standing developer program, complete with its own Twitter account, for five APIs, including Ad Media Services, Catalog Services and more. These APIs are behind Macy’s mobile strategy that includes apps like a find-in-store app and catalogue app, as well as in-store tools for employees.

Macy’s sister company Bloomingdale’s also has a public developer portal for a variety of APIs powering mobile apps like its shopping app, seasonal catalogue and designer collections.

International shopping center corporation Westfield created its own innovation segment in Westfield Labs to bring the in-person experience of shopping in a mall to life with APIs. The group launched the Dine on Time app for real-time meal delivery from its San Francisco Centre’s food court last year, and plans to extend to targeted displays of relevant products at nearby stores.

Walmart also has a Labs arm with a public developer portal that provides access, I/O docs and documentation to 17 APIs.

Best Buy has had an open developer platform since 2009, encouraging third-party devs to create apps for both employees and consumers with eight different APIs, from Buying Options to Recommendations.

Technology Platforms Supporting Retail

Many of the APIs that support retail today aren’t on the retailers’ side, but rather cropping up in services and platforms that complement and extend big brands’ efforts with new technology.

Adding functionality to apps and web, Bazaarvoice is a platform that lets retailers leverage user-generated content like ratings and reviews and Q&A forums to drive engagement, and ultimately revenue. The company has a robust developer portal around its Conversations API so developers can easily build this functionality into any retail or ecommerce app.

APIs are also facilitating new, faster ways for consumers to make purchases. Take Rue La La, a members-only site that sells designer brands at reduced prices, which successfully integrated with the Google Wallet API last year to speed up paths to purchase. Rue La La as well as Neiman Marcus have also built integrations with MasterPass, MasterCard’s digital wallet, for faster in-app purchases.

For in-store analytics, services like RetailNext pull in data from sources like cameras, PoS systems and even weather, and then push tailored communications to apps and third-party apps, analytics solutions and more. This service allows retailers to better understand how customers shop in their store and then customize the experience based on multiple data points.

Even non-retail companies like Orange, a telecommunications company based in France, has created mobile APIs to facilitate the connection of new technologies like near field communication (NFC), which builds on RFID and quickens the shopping experience by making things like credit card payments faster. The telco released an NFC API toolbox for developers to build the technology into mobile apps for things like loyalty programs and digital shopping carts.

APIs Pushing the Boundaries Beyond Apps

This list is not exhaustive, but from these real-world retail use cases, it’s clear that APIs will continue to shape the shopping experience by continuing to evolve the mobile experience and fueling exciting additions within the physical store. With APIs, shopping isn’t dead, and in fact, retailers can actually teach us all a few things about maintaining our APIs. Many retailers and other companies with mission-critical APIs make sure those APIs are always up and performing as expected by monitoring for real-world use cases and key API transactions with API monitoring tools like Runscope. It's free and easy to get started, even when the season of sales is over.  

So the next time you find yourself getting coupon alerts on your phone while in a store, or entranced by a big screen in a mall, remember, there’s probably an API for that.  

Categories: customers, community, api ecosystem, apis, microservices

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